Alex Knobb Track at Franz Josef Glacier
I had two choices when I got to Franz Josef.
Pay for a guided tour onto the glacier to walk on the snow, or take a free hike up Alex Knobb and have best viewpoint of the glacier from right in front of it.
The decision was not a difficult one. Upon arriving at the Glow Worm Franz Josef Hostel I put away my bags and went to the front desk to ask about hiking. This was the first stop on my journey from Queenstown so I was still pretty nervous, but I wanted it to be memorable. The helpful lady at the front desk told me what my options were for checking out the glacier. Most of which involved either spending a lot of money on a helicopter ride or paying a tour guide to walk a group of us to the Glacier. I told her I was looking for an adventurous hike, and she suggested the Alex Knob track. She warned me that it was very challenging, and is only suitable for a seasoned hiker. I considered myself to be pretty badass, but I had very little hiking experience at this point, and had no idea what I was capable of. I told her I was up for the challenge.
She booked a shuttle for myself and two other hikers staying at the hostel, to take us to the trail head the next morning. It was very easy to get to and only took about 10 minutes. The trails were very well-marked and easy to navigate. After the taxi dropped us off, I believe it was only a 10 minute or so walk to the trail that broke off to go to Alex Knobb.
The hike was spectacular, with so much to see along the way. It was challenging for the most part with a constant steep climb. There were many spots along the way for resting and looking out at the view of the valley. One of the best things that this hike offered was the huge variety of unique vegetation. I was often walking through and around this incredible jungle of black vines. They were thick and tangled around everything. They seemed to be a very invasive species in the forest but beautiful none the less.
I also found a few of New Zealand’s prize mushroom, the Entoloma hochstetteri. It can be found on their $5 bill as it is native to only New Zealand and India and is very rare. The only time I spotted them during my entire 6 months in New Zealand was while I was on the Alex Knobb track.
I believe the hike took me about 5.5 hours at a steady pace. I wore good hiking boots and brought 3L of water, two oranges, two granola bars and a beer as a reward when I reached the top. It was delicious. There was one moment when I was about 20 minutes from the summit where I sat and debated turning back, as my legs were so tired from the constant climbing. Thankfully, a young couple that caught up with me on the hike, pushed me to move on. I didn’t realize, at the time that I was so close to the top. The view when I got there was incredible and I was so happy I pushed on.
This hike is not easy, but with enough time and determination, I believe anyone of relatively good health can reach the summit. Always be prepared when hiking, and stay safe.
A great reference for more information on this hike and more glacier adventures in New Zealand is Glacier Country New Zealand. As my trip to NZ was over 4 years ago, my memory was quite foggy about some of the details from this hike. Glacier Country New Zealand had extensive information on this hike and some amazing history about Alex Knobb as well. Be sure to check them out if you are planning to see any of New Zealand’s glacier country.